Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Exclusive: Downtown with Chanteuse Ambiguous Brown

Our arts and entertainment reporter, Yasmin Muñeca, had the privilege of sitting down for an extended talk with pop-jazz singing sensation Ambiguous Brown. Here's what she learned.

My signature song is a jazzy cover of "Glitter in the Air."
"Ambiguous" is a stage name, right? You started as Dolores Daughtry...

My friends still call me Dolly. [laughs] I started out playing gigs and sending demos under my real name, but people kept thinking I was a country singer! Or they'd ask if I was related to Chris Daughtry and expect me to be doing post-grunge. After working housekeeping jobs to pay my rent, I've had all the grunginess I can stand. When I'm on stage, I want it to be all about the glam.

We had a cozy sit-down in the studio where Ambi is recording.

Since you mention it, why pop-jazz? It's kind of a niche thing, when the radio's full of hip-hop and pop-R&B.

If anybody had told me a pop-reggae song would be a number one hit, I wouldn't have believed them -- but Magic! did it. Maybe I'll be the one to put pop-jazz in the top ten in 2015.

Seriously, when it comes to making music, you have to love what you do because that love shines through to your audience. People feel that sincerity.

Tell us a little about how you got into that sound.

When I was eight or ten, everybody was dumping vinyl records because they'd switched to CDs. So I could get all these things for, like, ten cents, and that's what I did with my allowance. I discovered Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, because everybody starts there, but also these girl groups from the 1960s who brought doo-wop influences to pop. My school's Hallowe'en dance in eighth grade, I went as a Shirelle.

Did you sing there?

Yes, I did! I sang "Mama Said." My mama still plays the video for any date I bring home more than three times. Don't you dare call her! [laughs]

You can't get equipment like this any more.
You're becoming known for having really big speakers at your shows...

I got an amazing deal on them from someone who'd been storing them in a garage since Montgomery Ward went out of business in 2000. It wasn't until later that I realized they were cheap because most bands can't get them into their van.

Still, you spend any time at all in this business, you learn how to make lemons out of lemonade. The speakers turn out to have amazing sensitivity and very low total harmonic distortion. I wouldn't do a show without them now.

In fact, you're known for interacting with them.

One of the issues I have to deal with -- and this can be sensitive for people, but let's be frank about it -- is that I'm non-articulated. I can't do a sideways pony or the hand gestures or whatever... but I can get up on my speakers and sing, and it adds energy to the show to do more than just stand there. When I sing "Cry Me a River" from the top of that speaker, you know, the moment works.

Perfect mood for a torch song!
Can you talk about the challenges of being non-articulated in today's music industry?

Being non-articulated in today's anything-industry means you have to try twice as hard. I think it's important to focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't. I may never be able to bend and unbend my elbows, but I can sing, and I can make people happy with my singing.

I should mention, though, that fifty cents from each sale of my new EP, Ambiguous Holiday, go to Arms Straight Out, a really wonderful non-articulated acceptance group that I've been involved with since high school.

I'm guessing, then, that you haven't applied for a body transplant.

No, I can't see myself doing that. Not that there's anything wrong with it! But I'm focused on being comfortable in my own skin.

Tell us a little about this EP.

It's five songs, but you probably guessed that! All holiday music, but I tried to represent all sorts of traditions. So there's a song for Hanukkah and one for Kwanzaa. There's "Silent Night" in a new arrangement. There's even a song for Festivus! And of course, no holiday EP is complete without "Let It Snow."

No "Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire"?

And take on the ghost of Ella Fitzgerald? No thank you!

It's good to stay in practice with the front-row low-five move.
You're planning to go out on tour, right?

I have a series of holiday shows planned, then I'm taking January and the first part of February to finish a full album that I'll be on the road to promote all summer. Hey, maybe with improved U.S. relations with Cuba, I'll get to play the Tropicana!

What's your favorite part of touring?

Getting to see my fans up close and personal, definitely. I just want to get my music out there and be heard, and without my amazing fans, I'd never have that chance.

Is there anything special we can look forward to with your live shows?

Absolutely all of it! [laughs] I've got new covers, including a jazz-pop version of Taylor Swift's "Blank Slate" that just sizzles -- I hope. I've got three new originals already, which is kind of scary, but I'm excited about writing my own material.

Oh, and I'm doing a new mash-up that's sort of about my journey... so listen for the snippet of Barry Manilow's "Bathroom Bowl Blues."

It's been great talking with you. Any final words?

Thank you for your support. All of you are incredibly beautiful, and please buy my EP!


  1. This was so great, your imagination is awesome, like the Arms Straight Out acceptance group LOL! As always, excellent reading, I love your blog!

  2. Such a cute post! Love the support group "Arms Straight Out" too funny!

  3. I loved this Smaller Places!!!! it is possible that my Model Muse Barbies will join the Arms Straight Out group soon.....
    you did a great job with Dolores hair, now she has a lot of style!

  4. I can't stop smiling about this...too funny! And I really like what you did with her hair. I've been working on an interview story for over a month, and it is nowhere near as entertaining as this : )

  5. @Night Owl, @Phyllis, @billa, @Jewell -- Aw, thanks! There will be more from Arms Straight Out in the future...

    Glitter hair happened because I could not find flocking, and it's become somewhat of a mania now.

  6. LOL "Arms Straight Out." That's clever and awesome!

  7. Ambi's given a nice interview. I would have liked to hear her cover of "Mama Said.